People passing by the Fleming Administration Building yesterday afternoon most likely read part of a 400 foot-long banner wrapped around the building that asked the University to put “people before profit, cut the New Era contract,” and enforce University principles because “our Code of Conduct means nothing if we don’t enforce it.”
The banner was only part of what members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality planned for the National Student-Labor Day of Action, which included protests and rallies at over 110 schools across the country.
University SOLE members focused their attention on ending the contract between the University and the New Era Cap Company in Derby, N.Y. The company has been under fire since July 2001, when the Workers’ Rights Consortium released a preliminary report on New Era that included several health code violations.
RC junior Aaron Goodman, a member of SOLE, said the Day of Action was a success because he believes interim University President B. Joseph White understood their message.
Though SOLE members did not convince White to cut a prepared symbolic contract, he did voice his dislike of New Era and promised the group he would look into the possibility of ending the contract.
“I think his verbal commitment is really strong and really hopeful,” RC sophomore and SOLE member Jenny Lee said. “We just have to see if he can follow through with it.”
But White said cutting the contract early is unlikely because of legal issues. The University has already sent a letter to New Era saying the contract will not be renewed after its October expiration date if the company does not fix its problems.
“I’m no fan of New Era,” White said, adding that it is not his job to cut the contract. “The University has a committee and the committee exists for the purpose of providing guidance on what actions the University should take on these matters.”
SOLE members claim the company is in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct for Licensees. The code states, “Licensees shall provide a safe and healthy working environment to prevent accidents and injury.”
University officials said they feel New Era has not fully responded to the allegations.
As part of the Day of Action, dozens of SOLE members piled into the Office of the President and read statements from New Era workers who are currently on strike. In the statements, workers described the unsafe conditions of their jobs.
“Every Friday, I used to cash my check and cry, and wonder, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I killing myself?’ And after I cashed my check, I’d pick up goodie bags for my kids, rent a movie and buy some pizza. I was able to do that for my kids. That’s what made that whole week worth it,” New Era worker Belinda Adey said in a statement.
Adey said her injuries and health problems have been numerous because of her work at New Era. Her thumbs have been permanently damaged, and she suffers from muscle inflammation. She also said she and other workers suffer from low morale as a result of New Era’s management and harassment.
“They know who’s very, very union and treat them accordingly,” she said.
Several administrators said they believed SOLE members had been “orderly” and “respectful,” though several Department of Public Safety officers did show up at the demonstration.
“We had blocked the entrance with our banner, so they requested that we take the banner down,” Goodman said.
Students participating in the Day of Action at other schools, like San Jose State University, were also working to cut contracts with New Era.
“Our administration is very corporate-friendly out here, but they are slowly coming around,” said San Jose State student Dale Weaver, a member of Students for Justice. Weaver and others at the school also participated in a rally outside their president’s office yesterday. “The more things we have like this, the more they are realizing that we have to be better citizens.”